Lloyd Omdahl: $15 wage will stir 2018 election
An initiated measure will be on the ballot this year proposing to move the state minimum wage in three steps from $7.25 to $15 by 2021. Needless to say, the proposal will stir election politics.
Controversial? Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute is already writing against the proposal with op-ed pieces for North Dakota newspapers.
The Employment Policies Institute has spent its 25 years of existence fighting all and any wage increases across the country with the hackneyed argument that raising the minimum wage will eliminate jobs.
In the North Dakota piece, he argued that a $15 minimum wage is unnecessary because we have jobs that already exceed that minimum. If that were true across the state, no one would be hurt by a wage hike so why is he fighting it?
A flat $15 minimum wage in North Dakota is going to be seen by many as a bridge too far. It may be appropriate in the urban areas, but it will run into trouble in the smaller communities where working folks are happy with $7.25, accepting the fact that small-town businesses can't handle $15.
What this means is that one statewide minimum wage doesn't fit all. (It never does.)
Jonathan Cowan and Jim Kessler of Third Way, a centrist policy institute, argue against a uniform national minimum wage because the range of living costs varies widely across the country. The same is true about minimum wages at the state level.
Saltsman's argument about jobs sounds more logical than it is. In fact, some studies suggest that the states that have raised their minimum wages have actually generated more employment.
Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reports that real pay grew more than twice as fast in states that raised minimum wages and that gains for women were larger because they tend to be underpaid.
More jobs with routine functions are now being lost by conversion to technology, even in the fast-food restaurants. This is being done in businesses now paying only the federal minimum wage of $7.25. And it will continue regardless of the minimum wage.
We are telling employees that they can have jobs that pay only poverty wages, and if we raise them out of poverty the jobs will disappear. So the only choice is poverty. Doesn't sound like the land of opportunity.
At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, the monthly income is $58 per day, $280 per week and $1,305 a month. This is not a living wage — it is supplementary income.
While the federal minimum wage has been a puny $7.25 since 2010, states have been taking the initiative, either by legislation or by a vote of the people. The ballot box has forced higher minimum wages in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine and Washington. Going to the people will become more common as long as we stonewall negotiation of wage levels.
The business community has forced this issue into Washington by their destruction of labor unions. Union negotiations would lead to minimum wages suitable for individual classes of businesses rather than having government impose one standard on all businesses.
Management and employees both would be better off if they could sit down and consider what the different North Dakota businesses can afford. Without unions to negotiate, the government will set the wages.
In his op-ed piece, Saltsman proposed the North Dakota citizens not sign the petitions to put the $15 wage proposal on the ballot. As the mouthpiece for some distant organization, it is really none of his business. So North Dakotans should sign the petitions and force a robust public discussion of the issue.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and professor at UND. His column is published Mondays in the Herald.